Northern Ireland GPs are in crisis, according to a new report.
Research from the British Medical Association (BMA) has found almost three-quarters of practices (74 per cent) are struggling to deal with increased workloads while some 10 per cent claim to be barely coping.
Concerns have also been raised about growing patient lists, the increasing use of locum doctors and the volume of paperwork.
Dr Tom Black, chairman of the BMA Northern Ireland’s general practitioners committee, said: “We knew the situation was bad, but the research showed clearly that primary care here is on the edge of a full blown crisis.”
Some 229 surgeries from across the Province took part in the study.
The difficulties are worst for smaller practices in rural areas – some of which are struggling to fill vacancies.
The retirement of doctors in a number of facilities, already under strain, was also highlighted.
Dr Black added: “Fifty per cent said they expected retirements in their practice in the next two to five years and this was particularly marked in practices that were already struggling. Those GPs just can’t take the stress any longer.
“We also had GPs reporting that they were struggling to take annual leave and 76 per cent of respondents saying their work-life balance was being adversely affected by their job.”
The BMA has urged the Government to take immediate action to address the problems including the development of a long-term strategic investment plan.
Their wish-list includes a call for a public commitment from new Health Minister Michelle O’Neill to increase funding for general practice at a minimum of 10 per cent of the health budget; a stabilisation fund to help practices at serious risk; the establishment of a GP taskforce; a national standard for patient consultations per day; a review of bureaucracy and more training places.
They also want funding for expanded primary care teams to include mental health, health visitors and advance nurse practitioners, physiotherapists and physician associates as well as investment in out of hours provisions.
“We must find ways of securing general practice in the short term and evolve to a modern, sustainable model of general practice for the future to allow us to provide a service that meets the needs of patients,” said Dr Black.
“The actions we have outlined if implemented will go some way to address the crisis facing general practice. This is a matter of urgency to not only rescue general practice, but to ensure that patients in Northern Ireland have a responsive, safe and sustainable general practice service that they know will be there when they need it.”
The BMA hope patients will sign a petition being distributed to all GP surgeries over the coming months.